AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., attended the Senate Army Caucus breakfast on Capitol Hill last week. Attendees included senior Army leaders as well as key Senators and their personal and professional staff members.
The keynote speaker was Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno. Among his talking points was the urgent need for a predictable funding stream that does not include continuing resolutions so that planning based on actual appropriations rather than presumed or hoped for appropriations can occur.
Odierno’s message has not wavered. He believes that the fiscal crisis facing the Army is due in part to the fundamental lack of predictability in the budget cycle. Operating under a continuing resolution prevents new starts for needed programs, limits reprogramming actions, creates inefficiency, and often results in wasteful funding for accounts no longer wanted or needed. If not addressed, the current fiscal uncertainty will significantly and rapidly degrade Army readiness for the next five to ten years.
The breakfast gave Gen. Sullivan the opportunity to reinforce Odierno’s message to the attending Senators which included the Caucus Co-chairs Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I.,and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.
NEW LEGISLATION SPOTLIGHT
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., has introduced legislation (H.R. 1971) that would require the Defense Department to offer the TRICARE Prime managed health care option in places where the department plans to discontinue the program.
Due to a policy change, more than 170,000 veterans across the country who live outside 100 miles of a military treatment facility will lose access to TRICARE Prime on Oct. 1, 2013. Kline’s legislation, the “Keep Faith with TRICARE Prime Act,” would afford every affected veteran the opportunity to continue their enrollment in TRICARE Prime or move to TRICARE Standard, depending upon which plan best fits their needs.
Military retirees in Prime pay annual enrollment fees of $269.26 for an individual and $538.56 for families, and their co-pays for outpatient care are $12. Prime requires no deductibles. TRICARE Standard has no enrollment fees but carries greater out-of-pocket costs, including cost shares of 25 percent for retirees and annual deductibles for outpatient care of $150 for an individual and $300 for a family for retirees.
According to DoD data, a family of three using TRICARE Standard averaged $2,075 in out-of-pocket costs for health care in fiscal 2009, while a similar family in Prime paid about $1,375.
Kline said his proposed bill would help TRICARE Prime beneficiaries on a fixed income who might not be able to afford the extra cost.
“Promises made should be promises kept and the Pentagon should not break faith with our nation’s heroes,” said Kline, a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. “My legislation keeps faith with nearly 4,000 veterans in Minnesota and more than 170,000 nationwide. I look forward to working with my House and Senate colleagues from both sides of the aisle to help those affected by the Pentagon’s misguided TRICARE policy change.”
MILCON/VA FUNDING BILL ADVANCES
A bill that provides funding for military construction and the VA was approved by a House appropriations subcommittee last week.
The Military Construction/VA Appropriations subcommittee unanimously approved the bill which would appropriate $147.6 billion, of which $73.3 billion is slated for discretionary programs.
One of the biggest challenges facing the VA is the backlog of pending disability claims that totaled 856,092 as of August 2012, with an average wait of 254 days. To help address the backlog, the bill would provide $155 million for the Veterans Benefit Management System, a paperless claims process system as well as $136 million for the Veterans Claims Intake Program. That program would eliminate the paper-based system by digitally scanning existing paper health records. It would also provide $344 million for a single, DoD-VA electronic health record program.
What’s next: The legislation will now go to the full appropriations committee for approval.